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by Gerry McGovern
Author, New Thinking

It strikes me as interesting that so many people on the Internet don't want to be their standard selves. This is particularly the case with regard to how people behave within what have commonly become known as chat areas. It's also reflected by the amount of people who use Hotmail-type accounts in order to achieve anonymity.

There are certain reasons to be anonymous or to take on an alternative character. You may fear that if you use your real name what you say or do may result in some form of punishment or recrimination. Making a political statement which is opposed to an authoritarian regime would be an example here. Or, you may want anonymity simply because you want to be free 'n' easy. A bit like fancy dress, anonymity on the Internet allows you to escape into a wonder-world and behave in a way that would not be acceptable in the 'real' world.

There are certain chat areas that I am aware of where practically everyone uses a pseudonym. It's almost embarrassing to use a real name as you would feel distinctly out of place. These chat areas are not dealing with particularly salacious material. Generally, it's just banter.

Could it be the case that many of us have latent split-personalities, and that the Internet is an environment that allows these personalities to split and 'flourish?' If this is the case, then it has a number of major implications. From a marketing point of view, for example, will a consumer behave and react to stimuli one way offline, while reacting in quite a different way online?

Another way of looking at the Internet is that it allows us to be ourselves - or at least a certain part of ourselves - in a more open and direct way. I read recently about a Quaker Oats study of cereal eating habits. When Quaker did face-to-face interviews, asking people how many cereals they ate every week, the responses were significantly lower than the sales data they had. When Quaker moved the survey online, the responses much more closely matched the statistical data.

A number of other researchers have indicated that on the Internet, people are more open to disclose things that they would not disclose or would distort in face-to-face situations. Another side of this equation is that consumers are much more direct and demanding online. When they get annoyed with a product or service, they become much less constrained by the social mores of politeness, and really let fly at that which is annoying them.

A number of questions that need to be asked include the following:

  • Is the 'self' a very complex and multifarious entity that has been largely constrained and hemmed in by physical environments?
  • Will consumers and consumption materially change in an online world?
  • Will consumers want different products and services to match their split life styles?
  • If people are much more volatile and changeable online, does that indicate that doing business online is a volatile and unpredictable activity?

The more I think about the Internet the more I realise that it is much bigger than the wires and computers the seemingly house it. It is in some ways like millions of doors that millions of imaginations flow through. Dreams, desires, ideas, hopes, emotions, language and expression spark and ignite across its vast and expanding surface.

� Gerry McGovern, New Thinking. All rights reserved.

Gerry McGovern is the author of New Thinking, a weekly column which has received numerous accolades and a book, THE CARING ECONOMY

The Caring Economy
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The Caring Economy, by Gerry McGovern, is published by Blackhall Publishing of 26 Eustace Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. ISBN 1-901657-61-2 Price _27.50 or US$35.95
Email: [email protected]

It is also available in the United States from Irish Books & Media, 1433 East Franklin Avenue, MN, USA 55404-2135. Call toll-free: 1-800-229-3505.

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